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Cecil Sharp, Nagra Decks, Tony Barrand, and Mick Moloney on the Folklife Today Podcast

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Photograph of a Nagra IV-S portable reel-to-reel tape deck
Nagra IV-S portable reel-to-reel tape deck in the Folklife Reading Room. Photo by John Fenn.

We’re back with another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher.

In this episode, John Fenn and I talk about some of our favorite items in the archive, including a Nagra IV-S portable tape recorder, and invite Jennifer Cutting along to talk about commercial recordings of traditional folk dance tunes collected by the English folklorist Cecil Sharp. We used the opportunity to honor folklorists  Tony Barrand, who built upon Cecil Sharp’s dance scholarship, and Mick Moloney, who made some great recordings on our Nagras. Barrand and Moloney both passed away in the last year. As usual, I’ll present more complete recordings of the music and other related collections in this blog post. But first…

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As is often the case, much of the material in the podcast is discussed elsewhere on the blog, and other resources are available on the Library’s website. Find the relevant links below!

Cecil Sharp Recordings

A woman and a man in colorful clothes speak into two microphones.
Jennifer Cutting and Tony Barrand speak outside the Library of Congress on May 1, 2003. Cutting is dressed in her “kit” as a member of Rock Creek Morris Women, while Barrand is dressed as “Mother,” a traditional character from the Morris tradition. Photo courtesy of David Roodman, who has the photo in his collection, and may be the photographer.

The Cecil Sharp recordings in the National Jukebox were discussed on the blog in this post by Stephanie Hall.

The specific tunes discussed by Jennifer on the podcast were the following:

The Cecil Sharp diaries, where I found his comments on the recording sessions, are available at this link at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

Cecil Sharp’s song collecting in the United States was the subject of the concert and multimedia presentation Sharp’s Appalachian Harvest with Jeff Davis & Brian Peters, which AFC presented in 2015–find it at this link.

Jennifer’s interview with Tony Barrand was presented over 4 blog posts, which you’ll find at this link.

Nagra IV-S Tape Deck

A man wearing headphones with a portable tape deck slung over his shoulder and a microphone pointed toward the photographer
Mick Moloney prepares to record Irish music at the Annual Midwest Fleadh Cheoil at Bogen High School, Chicago, Illinois, May 8, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas.  Find the archival scan here!

John’s choice of an item that caught his eye was one of our portable Nagra tape decks. The deck itself is in the AFC reading room, and you can see it by visiting us in Washington, DC!  But if you can’t make the trip, there’s a photo at the top of the blog.

Although a lot of recordings were made for AFC on the Nagras, we chose to play field recordings made by Mick Moloney for the 1977 Chicago Ethnic Arts Project. We did this to honor Mick, who passed away unexpectedly on July 27. Mick was a good friend of mine, and a mentor. I’ve known him since the 1980s, and my first teaching job was as his teaching assistant in a class on Irish folk music in the early 1990s. My own choice of an item that caught my eye was the striking photo of Mick to the right, complete with Nagra on his hip. It was taken by Jonas Dovydenas on May 8, 1977, on the same day Mick made the recordings we played on the podcast.

Find the specific tapes we used in the podcast at the following links:

Find all of Mick’s recordings for the project at this link.

Mick also presented an illustrated lecture for us in 2009: If it Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews: Irish and Jewish Influences on the Music of Vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley, which you can find at this link.

When Mick passed away, we posted this obituary, with the same photo, on the AFC Facebook page.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for listening!

In case you need that podcast link again…here it is!


  1. I enjoyed the podcast! We have all heard segments of the history of commercial sound recording in the United States that spotlight the synergy between grassroots/homegrown expression and more formal “highbrow” forms. Your podcast added another marvelous account to my knowledge of this cultural dynamic. It was news to me that Cecil Sharp, um, produced some recordings in the 1920s (grumbling as he did it) that recreated (up to a point) Appalachian folk performances he had notated in the field. I was also tickled to learn that the National Jukebox offers some examples for us to hear! Then the podcast turned to Stefan Kudelski’s Nagra tape recorder with information about its use in AFC field projects, in this case highlighting the work of the late (and lamented) Mick Moloney. As a former participant in these activities, this was music to my ears. My thoughts drifted back to stories from the late 1960s; I think I heard that former folk archive head Joe Hickerson used the predecessor Nagra model III in the field, and I believe (?) that this recorder had once belonged to Mike Seeger.

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